Wolverine is an R-rated character who has, until this point, been stuck in PG-13 movies. He swears like a sailor, slices like a butcher, and deals with domestic drama like a father who left 10 years ago to get a pack of cigarettes. Logan, the first X-Men film to be rated R, is a chance for Wolverine to finally be himself.
Which is to say, this isn’t a kids movie. Even theaters want you to be prepared.
(Mild spoilers ahead.)
Wolverine is older and more brittle than before, but no less deadly. The film’s opening scene has him chopping off limbs and stabbing faces to the bass rhythm of swears and screams. He chauffeurs drunks, boob-flashing partygoers, and tycoon types around Texas before being sucked into his true assignment: escorting Laura — a special mutant with powers similar to his own — to safety in Canada.
Like Logan, Laura possess Adamantium claws, strength, and superpowered healing, which makes her a tiny but lethal foe. Before the movie’s end, we watch Laura disembowel, dismember, and chuck a severed head with as much unapologetic skill as Logan. We also see her take a spear through the chest, a shocking level of violence rarely applied to children on film.
Together, the two are a deadly strike team, whipping around the screen, claws out, skewering heads like mushrooms on kabobs. Each on-screen death is as inventive as it is gruesome: skulls pop, legs snap, entire bodies explode into a pulpy, red mist.
Laura isn’t the only deadly child in the movie. When cornered by foot soldiers, a band of mutant tweens turn lethal. One freezes a mans arm, shattering it at his elbow. Another kid turns a grunt soldier into a human pin cushion with the help of thousands of tiny wooden splinters. When we watch these mutant children combine their powers to kill the movie’s big bad, it’s meant to be a moment of vindication. But it’s also a moment of body horror. Their powers combine to slow contort, crush, and obliterate him — literally.
Logan isn’t the first superhero film to get an R rating; time will tell if it can top Deadpool’s standing as the highest grossing. It isn’t the copious amount of foul language and “fucks” the film has to give (somewhere around 35, give or take for different variations, mumbled, or muttered half-fucks), or even the gratuitous violence that hammers this point into the ground. It’s how the film forces viewers to grapple with the raw reality that superheroes are killers.
Throughout the film, Logan comes across X-Men comic books and criticizes them for being fabricated and artificial. The art is colorful and retro, and noticeable free of bloody battles. Logan may as well be talking about previous X-Men films; the Wolverine of past X-Men films is merely a performance of the real Logan, the one we see in the film.
In Logan’s realistic world, battles have tangible consequences. It’s no accident the powers and ages of these new mutants feel so similar to those who studied under Charles Xavier in previous X-Men films. When they slaughter the big bad, we see a fight end with realistic, nauseating inevitability.
But Logan is the star of the film, and the obligation to demythologize the superhero falls on him. His ability to heal means he can withstand an act of violence as devastating as a bullet to the head. His power to shoot sharp, shiny blades from his knuckles mean his attacks will always involve some sort of bloodshed, even if it’s only his own. But throughout X-Men and Wolverine’s kid-friendly history, we’ve watched him stab, slice, and impale his enemies with minimal gore — or simply heard the act from offscreen.
To be a fan of Wolverine in these films is to suspend your belief that Logan — a man with anger issues and a big ol’ lawnmower for a body — is a hero and not just a glorified butcher. It’s impossible to watch Logan crunch his claws through a man’s bare skull, repeatedly, and still view him as the spandex-wearing “bad boy” we’ve always known him to be.
The film shrewdly makes this point with Logan’s healing powers. In the past, his body covered wounds and blood in the blink of an eye. But in Logan, his chest is carved with large, festering chasms. His body can’t hide the violence anymore.